Copyright
John Spargo.

The psychology of bolshevism online

. (page 5 of 8)
Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe psychology of bolshevism → online text (page 5 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ditions, unnecessary. In the meantime, how-
ever, it is necessary and its disappearance
would be attended by economic disaster. Yet
we penalize the men who provide this labor
by excluding them from the privileges of cit-
izenship. This we do indirectly, but ef-
fectively, by making the right to vote, in na-
tional as well as local elections, dependent
upon residential qualifications which the
migratory worker can rarely meet. A fixed
residence for a definite period of time, per-
sonal appearance for registration on fixed
dates in order to vote, forfeiture of the right
to vote as a result of moving within certain
periods of time, even in pursuit of employ-
ment these are the devices which make of
our migratory workers a disfranchised class,
a proletariat of a peculiarly helpless kind.

76



OF BOLSHEVISM

Many a hardworking, intelligent American,
who from choice or from necessity, is a
migratory worker, following his job, never has
an opportunity to vote for State legislators,
for Governor, for Congressman or President.
He is just as effectively excluded from the
actual electorate as if he were a Chinese
coolie, ignorant of our customs and our
speech.

We cannot wonder that such conditions
prove prolific breeders of Bolshevism and
similar "isms." It would be strange indeed if
it were otherwise. We have no right to ex-
pect that men who are so constantly the vic-
tims of arbitrary, unjust, and even brutal
treatment at the hands of our police and our
courts will manifest any reverence for the law
and the judicial system. Respect for majority
rule in government cannot fairly be demanded
from a disfranchised group. It is not to be
wondered at that the old slogan of Socialism,
"Strike at the ballot-box 1" the call to lift the
struggle of the classes to the parliamentary
level, for peaceful settlement, becomes the
desperate, anarchistic I. W. W. slogan,
"Strike at the ballot-box with an ax!" Men
who can have no family life cannot justly be
expected to bother about school administra-

77



THE PSYCHOLOGY

tion. Men who can have no home life, but
only dreary shelter in crowded work-camps
or dirty doss-houses are not going to bother
themselves with municipal housing reforms.
In short, we must wake up to the fact that,
as the very heart of our problem, we have a
Bolshevist nucleus in America composed of
virile, red-blooded Americans, racy of our
soil and history, whose conditions of life and
labor are such as to develop in them the
psychology of reckless, despairing, revengeful
Bolshevism. They really are little concerned
with theories of the State and of social de-
velopment, which to our Intellectuals seem
to be the essence of Bolshevism. They are
vitally concerned only with action. Syn-
dicalism and Bolshevism involve speedy and
drastic action hence the force of their ap-
peal. In the name of democracy we have per-
mitted oppression, and now the oppressed, re-
volting, menace democracy. The American
workingman who is a Bolshevik or a sym-
pathizer with Bolshevism, is, in all except
rare and exceptional instances, a victim of
great and real wrongs which have steeped his
consciousness in hatred and bitter resentment.



78



OF BOLSHEVISM
XI

With the exception of the migratory occu-
pations, in which Americans are largely em-
ployed, the I. W. W. has gained its principal
following among foreign-speaking workers of
recent immigration, mainly those belonging to
the so-called "unskilled occupations." Long
ago, John Stuart Mill pointed out the ab-
surdity of this designation, and directed at-
tention to the fact that most of such occupa-
tions require a considerable degree of skill
and ability of one kind or another. Farm
laborers are always classified as unskilled
laborers, for example, but whoever has tried
to plow a field, or to sow a field of oats, knows
that these are tasks requiring very much skill.
The old and quite inaccurate term survives,
however, despite its absurdity, because it
serves the useful purpose of distinguishing be-
tween occupations which require a consider-
able period of apprenticeship and those which
can be reasonably well performed by any per-
son of normal intelligence after very brief
demonstration and experiment.

To supply labor of this kind we have in re-
cent years depended largely upon immigra-
tion from European nations. Millions of im-

79



migrants, mostly peasants, have poured into
our great industrial centers from Russia, Aus-
tria-Hungary, Italy, Greece, the Balkan
countries, and Spain. They have been drawn
to our country by the overpowering lure of
the magic word "America," with its promise
of wealth and of freedom from tyrannical and
despotic government, from social and religious
persecution, from militarism, and from never-
ending poverty. Some have had the ad-
vantages of elementary education and possess
some appreciation of the great problems of
modern society. Others have been illiterate
and ignorant, wholly incapable of intelligent-
ly appreciating the tasks confronting a demo-
cratic society.

In our feverish efforts to insure an abun-
dant supply of labor we have not made any
distinction between literate and illiterate. So
long as the needs of the immediate present
were met we have cared nothing for the fu-
ture. We have permitted our factories and
our cities to be filled with people of alien
speech, and have not deemed it necessary to
take steps to place them in possession of that
most elementary requisite for normal and ef-
ficient life, the language of the land. We have
permitted these people to be crowded into

80



OF BOLSHEVISM

slums where they are herded like cattle; to be
victimized and cruelly exploited by the cun-
ning and unscrupulous; to be made indus-
trial slaves. Until the great war revealed the
peril of these conditions and shocked us into
doing something about it, we ignored these
things. We took little trouble to see that jus-
tice was done to the immigrant laborers and
their families; we cared nothing for what
they thought; we were ignorant of and indif-
ferent to their thoughts and their feelings.
When such workers from time to time re-
volted and protested in the only manner avail-
able to them, or that they comprehended, too
commonly they were repressed and silenced
in the most brutal manner. Their contacts
with our police and our courts have, far too
often, left these aliens, naturalized and un-
naturalized alike, wondering wherein Amer-
ican democracy was freer or juster than Old
World autocracy.

For reasons which it is unnecessary to con-
sider in detail here, the American Federation
of Labor and its affiliated unions have not
been very successful in organizing this un-
skilled proletariat of alien origin. The critics
of the American movement charge that its
leaders have practically ignored these un-

81 *



THE PSYCHOLOGY

skilled workers. The leaders thus accused
deny the charge: they point to numerous at-
tempts which have ended in comparative fail-
ure; they emphasize the fact that the creation
of stable and strong organizations of unskilled
workers is always and everywhere exceedingly
difficult because supply is normally greater
than demand, especially where there is a con-
stant reinforcement by immigration, and that
the task becomes immeasurably more difficult
when there are many nationalities and races,
divided by barriers of language, religion, cus-
toms, and racial antagonisms. Finally, they
point to the fact that the employers in the in-
dustries most affected have made it a special
policy to break up the unions of such work-
ers, resorting to every brutal and corrupt
means to achieve this end.

Whatever the cause of the failure of the
American Federation of Labor, the result has
been the opportunity of the I. W. W. which
the latter has seized and used. It cannot be
said to have been more successful than the
American Federation of Labor in creating en-
during organizations. This is evidenced by
the fact that in those industrial centers in
which its greatest battles have been fought
McKee's Rocks, Lawrence, Paterson no

82



OF BOLSHEVISM

strong and lasting organization has resulted.
The leaders of the I. W. W. say, indeed, that
this is not their aim. They do not want to
create enduring organizations, they say, but
only temporary ones for strike purposes. They
do not aim to create organizations which will
negotiate with the employers and from time
to time adjust difficulties and make agree-
ments. They want war and disorder, not
peaceable agreement and orderly develop-
ment. Thus it is when the flames of discon-
tent arise that the I. W. W. comes upon the
scene, drawn by the scent of strife as buzzards
are drawn to carrion. It is true, as one of the
best known of our labor leaders has said, that
"I. W. W. employers are mainly responsible
for I. W. W. unions." Agitators of the I. W.
W. do not make the discontent : they only give
it leadership. There is a lesson for America
in the saying of an English statesman, "Fools
talk of agitators, there is but one injustice."
To this great mass of oppressed and discon-
tented alien workers the I. W. W. brings a
message of extreme plausibility, welcome and
easily accepted because it promises precisely
what is desired. The unions belonging to the
Federation of Labor are bitterly assailed for
caring for the interests of particular crafts at

83



THE PSYCHOLOGY

the expense of the entire working-class. They
are accused, not without justice, of capitalistic
methods and motives, as, for example, when
they exact high membership fees. When
these alien workers are told that the entrance
fees which some American unions have
charged have ranged from twenty-five to five
hundred dollars, that the glass-blowers' or-
ganization, for example, some years ago
charged an entrance fee of five hundred dol-
lars and seriously contemplated a special en-
trance rate of one thousand dollars for "for-
eigners," they are easily inspired with distrust
of the whole movement. By playing upon
their sufferings it is easy to inspire the belief
that our democracy, from which they ex-
pected so much, is a sham and no better than
autocracy. Bitter denunciations of national-
ism, and emotional appeals to a crude doc-
trine of universalism, miscalled international-
ism, find ready response.

Such, briefly indicated, are the conditions
and the experiences which, before the war
and the revolutionary uprisings in Europe,
had already produced in this country a great
body of discontent and despair of democracy,
seeing no hope in anything but Syndicalism.
The revolutionary movements in Russia and

84



OF BOLSHEVISM

throughout Europe, arising out of war con-
ditions, have given new names to the old ideas,
kindled new hopes of success and brought im-
mense reinforcements of numbers and of
courage and faith. But the central fact of
cardinal importance is that before the war and
before the Russian Revolution, in the normal
times and conditions of peace, we had already
developed, in the manner described, the
nucleus of a formidable and potentially dan-
gerous Bolshevist movement. War and war's
aftermath have increased the army of revolt.
It is not so difficult after all to understand the
psychology of this army of revolt.



XII



In modern society, war, when it is exten-
sive and long continued, is a great breeder of
revolutionary discontent, particularly in those
countries which do not have the actual pres-
ence of overpowering invading armies to
force the population into abnormal solidarity.
The great loss of human life, the large num-
bers of maimed and broken men, heavy taxa-
tion, profiteering, inflated prices, privation,
forced military service, disrupted homes,
interrupted business, unfamiliar and harsh

7 85



THE PSYCHOLOGY

military restrictions in civil life these and a
host of other evils incidental to modern war-
fare produce a sort of war neurosis. Ir-
ritability of temper and querulousness become
common. The people are more easily moved
to riotous demonstrations. Workers in fac-
tories and workshops are more ready to quar-
rel than in normal times. Strikes frequently
become epidemic, the most trivial incidents
sufficing to bring about strikes of considerable
magnitude. The disturbing influence of "war
nerves" has been observed in many countries
during the past five years.

It was inevitable that the conditions pro-
duced by the war should lead to the develop-
ment in this country, especially among cer-
tain groups of wage-earners, of a psycho-
logical predisposition to Bolshevism, a highly
developed suggestibility arising from nervous
over-tension. While it is fortunately true, on
the one hand, that in no country were there
so many ameliorative factors, to act as social
sedatives as it were, it is equally true that, as
a result of our great racially diversified poly-
glot, unassimilated population, and the pe-
culiar conditions which governed their im-
migration to this country, we were subject to
peculiarly strong irritants. Not even in that

86



OF BOLSHEVISM

most cosmopolitan and racially heterogeneous
of European countries, Austria, could there
be found greater racial heterogeneity, with
resulting diversity of racial sympathies and
personal ties, than existed here in these United
States. Millions of people either born in
enemy countries or sons and daughters of par-
ents who were so born, having many ties of
kindred with those countries, near relatives
and dear friends fighting in their armies, were
forced to practice extraordinary emotional
repression. Psychic overstrain, long con-
tinued, became the biggest factor in the
psychology of millions of people.

To the ordinary emotional strain of anxiety
and fear borne by all with loved ones in the
righting ranks, or with great material interests
at stake, for an appreciable part of our pop-
ulation there was added the terrible strain of
compulsory repression of natural emotions
and normal sympathies. Among our wage-
earners this overstrain fell, in large part, upon
those who by reason of recent arrival, lack
of assimilation to the new land and its ways,
defective education and, consequently, of self-
discipline, were least fitted to hear it. Take,
for instance, the attitude toward militarism
and conscription: The average American

87



THE PSYCHOLOGY

born citizen of American born parentage has
grown up with no knowledge of militarism
as that term is understood in Europe. He has
regarded it as one of the evils of the Old
World attendant upon monarchical and
dynastic rule. In a general way, he has al-
ways known that in case of need every able-
bodied citizen could be drafted to bear arms
for the defense of the nation. But this pos-
sibility has seemed remote and compulsory
military service only an incident in life, at
most. He has never felt the pressure of
militarism as a system, causing him to want
to migrate to some other land to escape as
from a deadly plague. He has never borne
the burden of crushing taxation for the up-
keep of a great military caste. He has never
known what it meant to live in a land whose
politics and governmental policies were gov-
erned by considerations of military strategy.
He has known nothing of the brutal despotism
inseparable from such a system. He has not
realized the meaning of a power in the State
arbitrarily taking millions of young men and
compelling them, against their will, to give
some of the best years of their life to fit the
plans of an autocratically, or bureaucratically,
governed military machine.

88



OF BOLSHEVISM

But all these things, which to the American
of native-parentage were only a terrible
phantasy, as little real as the warfare of the
gods in the mythologies, were tragically real
to millions of our people. It was to escape
from this monster, and to save their children
from its relentless maws, that millions of
them endured the privations, the sacrifices,
and the painful sundering of ties of family
and kindred, to establish themselves in the
New World, where the monster did not dwell,
and where, as they believed, he could not
come. All that, and more than that, they
felt implied in American democracy. They
found here no great standing army; no ar-
rogant military caste; no subordination of
politics and government to military strategy;
no crushing burden of taxation for a military
machine so vast that it bore, an Atlantean
load, upon the shoulders of every laborer, and
cast a shadow over every cradle.

Then came our entrance into a war more
extensive and more terrible than any in all
the previous history of mankind. The
theater of the war was thousands of miles
away. Its origins were obscure obscured by
much discussion and dispute. The greatest
pacific nation in the world set itself to the

89



THE PSYCHOLOGY

task of militarizing itself, of creating the
greatest military machine which its human
and material resources made possible. We di-
rected our genius and our might from the
arts of peace to the arts of war. Our mighty
engines of industry groaned under the new
urge and produced the ghastly implements of
death and destruction. Conscription was
ordered and the fairest and strongest of our
sons were sternly called from their homes to
wear khaki uniforms, to bear arms, and to
cross the seas as warriors. As if some evil
magician had willed to change the New
World and make it like the Old World, our
streets and public places echoed military
marching; a great load of taxation was im-
posed upon the people; our liberties of move-
ment, of assemblage, of speech, and of pub-
lication were narrowed and restricted by rules
born of military strategy.

Tragically terrible as all this was, the great
mass of the people accepted it with quiet
courage, confident that it would not long en-
dure. There was an American tradition to
sustain that faith. Little more than half a
century before there had been conscription
and military rule, so alien to our democratic
ideals, but when the emergency was passed

90



OF BOLSHEVISM

and the great task completed the nation threw
off the military incubus as a man throws off
an old coat, and returned to the normal ways
of industry and peace. So doubtless, it would
be again. Sustained by this faith, and ac-
cepting as true the splendid assurances of high
democratic purpose made by President Wil-
son in phrases of inspired sublimity, the na-
tion accepted, with remarkable unanimity,
the theory that the necessities of the war re-
quired and justified the temporary surrender
of valued liberties. The people were ready
and willing to make this sacrifice to the noble
idealism which gave to the war the character
of a great spiritual adventure.

Even the leaders of liberal and radical
opinion, with very few exceptions, steeled
their minds and hearts to acquiescence in these
dangerous expedients. Many of them felt,
doubtless, that there was great danger of
creating, while fighting for democracy
abroad, an intolerable despotism at home.
Doubtless many foresaw that the liberties thus
surrendered in a fervor of patriotism would
be hard to restore, involving a long and bit-
ter struggle. But they saw no hope for
democratic ideals here or elsewhere in the
world unless and until the greatest military

91



THE PSYCHOLOGY

empire in the world was broken and its power
to crush the liberties of the world destroyed.
So these men and women accepted the logic
of their faith and with the rest of the nation
clad their souls in khaki and fought for free-
dom for all mankind.

But there were millions among us whose
position was infinitely more tragic and dif-
ficult. How terrible their disappointment
and despair must have been when they saw
arise here in the Promised Land into which
they had so lately entered the very monster to
escape from which they had left the Old
World! It was, in fact, much harder to bear
the burdens of war and military necessity in
America than it would have been to bear sim-
ilar or heavier burdens in the lands from
which they came. The new order which came
into being with such cyclonic rapidity was
more than a physical burden : it was the death
of a cherished ideal passionately loved the
ideal of America as a land free from the ter-
rible scourage of militarism. Here, as in
Russia, as in Austria, as in Germany, the State
took the flower of the young manhood of the
nation to make soldiers "cannon fodder."
Here, as in those lands from which they had
torn themselves, industry was diverted to

92



OF BOLSHEVISM

military ends. Here, too, the soldiers' trade
was now idealized, and here, too, a great sys-
tem of espionage and sedition laws and mil-
itary regulations put an end to the freedom
"to know, to utter, and to argue freely accord-
ing to conscience." Moreover, the fierce out-
burst of national patriotism seemed to pro-
duce here the bitter and terrible hatred of
whole peoples which they had seen bear such
bitter and deadly fruit in the Old World.

When we remember these things it is not
a matter for wonder that Bolshevism found in
such minds a fertile soil. It is not difficult
to understand, or even to sympathize with, the
psychological state thus produced. The whole
experience of hundreds of thousands of such
people tended to make difficult, and even ab-
solutely impossible, understanding and ac-
ceptance of our role in the great war. On
the other hand, it was extremely easy to ac-
cept the view that the idealism expressed by
the President and other exponents of the na-
tion's purpose and policy was hypocritical;
that the Government had declared war at the
behest of capitalists who wanted war for the
sake of profit; that militarism was to be per-
manently fastened upon the people. It was
easy to embrace the crude universalism, call-

93



THE PSYCHOLOGY

ing itself internationalism, which proposed to
end all forms of nationalism and all national
rivalries and animosities. They were of the
working-class, conscious, as every intelligent
person must be, of a great divergence of in-
terest between themselves and the capitalist
class whether at home or abroad, and of a
commonality of interests with all workers
everywhere. But they were blind to the
parallel phenomenon of interests common to
all classes. They saw here the same gulf
separating rich and poor, the same extremes
of wealth and poverty. They saw that here
in America, just as in every other land, the
wage-earner must struggle with fierce in-
tensity to obtain the requisites of a decent ex-
istence. Surely, the real struggle of the mo-
ment, the one war that was worthy, was the
class war the workers of all lands against
the masters of bread and life.

In pre-war times, the fat days of peace, we
had given little heed to the vast problem of
assimilating the hordes of laborers drawn
from all over the world. We exploited them
but did little else. We did not trouble to
understand them, to make them understand
us. We cared only that they came in num-
bers large enough and remained docile

9+



OF BOLSHEVISM

enough. Perhaps it was because our ideals
were time-worn, and we ourselves cynical
concerning them, that we hardly tried to in-
spire them with any vision of America as a
nation striving to attain an ideal of com-
munism of opportunity. The richest and
rarest gift they had to bestow, a passionate
yearning for democratic freedom and justice
and a fierce hatred of despotism and injustice
gifts more lastingly valuable than their
labor, even we contemptuously ignored. Too
late, when the war came, we realized that
there was peril in the presence in our midst
of masses who, even when naturalized, were
not fully American; who lacked that deeply
rooted faith in our institutions, and that un-
shakable trust in our purpose, which are es-
sential to the highest and most enduring
patriotism.



XIII



The sense of peril thus suddenly thrust in-
to our consciousness, together with the realiza-
tion of the brutality and unscrupulous in-
triguing and plotting of the enemy, de-
veloped a highly hysterical policy of repres-
sion. In all too many cases we became as

95



THE PSYCHOLOGY

brutally savage as the Prussians. The
savagery of many of the sentences imposed by
our courts for violation of the laws relating
to sedition was equalled only by their
stupidity. We failed, all too often, to dis-
tinguish between actual obstruction of our
military enterprise, whether designed or ac-
cidental, and the simple expression of honest
doubts, fears, and reservations which honest


1 2 3 5 7 8

Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe psychology of bolshevism → online text (page 5 of 8)